"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . ." (Mt 28:19)
All followers of Christ, by their baptism, that is to say by being numbered among those of the royal priesthood, are called to make those of all nations become committed, baptized followers of Christ. We know this from the pen of St. Peter himself: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pt 2:9). That this is a calling to fulfill a commitment, a commission, is made evident in the Eastern Church Service of Baptism. After Chrismation and the reception of the Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, the newly baptized, led by the priest and sponsors, proceeds around the baptismal font singing the hymn: "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3: 27), Alleluia." The Epistle and Gospel reading follow. The Gospel reading is critical in understanding what the commission means. The commission lays out the ministry of service of all who are followers of Christ; it is a ministry of service (diaconia) of the newly baptized who has "put on Christ." The real meaning of Baptism is: "Go . . . make disciples of all nations . . . ." (Mt 28:19). That is to say, all baptized are to proclaim Christ; teach Christ; instruct Christ; all are commanded to be catechists.
Catechesis: The Teaching of What is Sacred
Catechesis is the teaching of the truths of Christ and His Church. What would come to most people’s minds when hearing the word catechesis would be the word catechism and its related associations. A catechism is a primary book containing the elemental principles of Christ's teaching and the way His teachings are understood and practiced by His Church. It could come to mind that it is children who are the ones to be studying. Also coming to mind could be that the catechism is presented in a question and answer format.
Few would understand that catechesis is a life-long process which must be experiential, total and in the depths of the heart. Surely this would include an 'intellectual' understanding involving learning and memory. But it also has to include so much more. It is Christ's revelation to us as is lived and prayed. It has to include all of life. It is not limited to children. It starts with the infant to be baptized, surrounded by the incense and the prayerful chants of the priest and assembly which rise to God and with the seal of the Holy Spirit ordaining the catechumen into the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ. Then catechesis continues through the total life span: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age, until ready to pass to eternal life. It consists in being immersed in the mind of the Christ and His Church: receiving the Holy Mysteries; knowing the teachings of the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit inspired Church contemplates them; living the spiritual teachings of our Church Fathers; integrating the liturgy, the cycles of the church year, the hours of the day into our life; using icons as a window to experience God, understanding of the temple building as a ship leading us to paradise; catechesis means a life of prayer.
The Spiritual Fathers of the Church knew this well. To know religion, that is to say to be a theologian, was not by getting a passing grade in a catechism class or by earning a theological diploma or degree. Evagrius the Solitary tells us: "If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly you are a theologian." (Philokalia I). "Prayer" is a shortcut term for interiorizing Christ, contemplating Him, and being mystically united to His Church. It is the implanting of the love of God in the center of one's heart (the nous). St. Hesychios the Priest expressed it this way: "Those who are seized by love [implanting God in the heart] . . . become just, responsive, pure, holy and wise through Jesus Christ, . . .they are able to contemplate mystically and to theologize; and when they become contemplatives, they bathe in a sea of pure and infinite light, touching it ineffably and living and dwelling in it." (Philokalia I). St. Peter of Damaskos summarizes St. Maximus the Confessor: "It is only when it [our hearts] abides in God alone that it is granted direct vision of what pertains to God and, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, becomes in the true sense a theologian.” (Philokalia III).
Spiritual Church Father Nikitas Stithatos shows us the depth of the effect of being truly catechized, i.e., of becoming a genuine theologian. It is certainly much greater than memorizing texts, even holy texts:
[It] is our initiation into the hidden mysteries of God and our being filled with ineffable wisdom through union with the Holy Spirit, so that each becomes a wise theologian in the great Church of God, illuminating others with the inner meaning of theology. He who has reached this point through the deepest humility and compunction has, like another Paul, . . . has heard indescribable things which he who is still dominated by the sense-world is not permitted to hear (cf. 2Cor 12:14)...He becomes a steward of God's mysteries (cf.1Cor 4:1), for he is God's mouthpiece, and through words he communicates these mysteries to other people . . . (Philokalia IV ).
As we learn from Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, (1979 ) the editors of The Philokalia, that theology denotes "far more than learning about God and religious doctrine acquired through academic study. it signifies active and conscious participation in or perception of the realities of the divine world. . . ." In other words, acquiring and interiorizing the Mind of Christ and His Church.
The early Christians were called "saints." St. Paul addresses the Romans (1:7): "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:2-3) he writes: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." St. John the Evangelist, in the book of Revelation (14:12), also calls the Christians he is writing to saints: "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Let us see what this means. Does it mean that those who are Christians are already saints, that is to say have achieved salvation, are already deified? Not at all! It means they (we) are 'called' to sainthood; it is a goal to be attained. We are called to "become partakers of the Divine Nature." (2Pt 1:4).
We can see this from the words of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ Himself. It is a call to perfection or sainthood. "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Later in the Gospel St. Matthew (9: 12) tells us the words of Jesus explaining this: "But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." We may be baptized, be working toward becoming saints, working toward deification, that is to say, having Christ indwell in us so that we who are followers of Christ may reap the reward promised by Christ when He said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." But now as St. Paul tells us: "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." Rm 3:23.
Let Us Commend Ourselves and Each Other, and All Our Life Unto Christ Our God
(Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
Right from the time of the earliest days of the Church we can see what being a true follower of Christ, a life of total commitment to Christ, can be. Consider St. Luke's description of some of the first Christians:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day-by-day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 41-47)
This description must be put into the context that the "saints" are striving to become perfect, and, as discussed above, all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. The point is, however, that they were fully committed, as was St. Paul (1Tm 6:12), to "fight the good fight". We must recall the understanding given to us by St. Peter of Damascus: "St. John Chrysostom says that the perfect man will certainly become the equal of the angels, as the Lord affirms; but he will do so in the resurrection of the dead, and not in this present world." (Philokalia III)
Of course there were some, and will always be, egregious exceptions and defections from commitment to Christ. The ultimate betrayer of Jesus was one of His original Apostles: the traitorous Judas. St. Matthew (27: 5) records the outcome: "And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. . . ." Two early followers of Christ, Ananias and his wife Sapphira, went astray. They not only kept part of the proceeds donated to the Church, but they lied about it. St. Luke records Ananias' encounter with St. Peter: ". . . why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died.” (Acts 5: 3-5). Sudden death came upon Sapphira as well (Acts 5:10). The history of the Church is filled with sinners. St. John records the words of Jesus given to him in Revelation (2: 6): "Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect founded by Nicholas, one of the first deacons of the Church. The sect promoted a life of unrestrained indulgence.
Secularism can be defined as the marginalization of God and the Church, andd in place of God and His Church, a focus on "earthly things" (Phil. 3,19). That is to say, the values of contemporary western world including: radical individualism; moral relativism; and religious and political correctness, which guide individual and social behavior and inform political/public policy.
Secularism rejects God and His Church as the touchstone of truth and meaning. Moreover, when God is rejected, the locus of truth — the place from which truth emanates and where it is found — must necessarily rest in the created order. The locus shifts to man himself, and as pride and an inflated sense of Godless self-sufficiency grows, ideas which find no court of accountability apart from the like-minded, are implemented in this quest for a new Jerusalem. (Morelli 2009b)
Clarity in theological, and in some cases moral, matters was hard fought. Church councils were often called in the heat of conflict and, in some cases, of persecution (Iconoclasm for example). Indeed, conflict within and without the Church is to be expected, although it may ebb and flow from one generation to the next. St. Matthew (7: 15-16) quotes our Lord saying, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
Among the more egregious contemporary societal sins are: Abortion, adultery, alcoholism, anger, blasphemy, child abuse (physical, psychological, sexual or neglect), contempt, deceit, drug addiction, evil speaking (talking about someone even if true), fornication, gossip, harshness, hate, hypocrisy, idolatry, insider trading, kidnapping, kickbacks, lust, lying, negligence, not caring for the environment, pre-emptive unjust warfare, same sex marriage, smoking, spousal abuse, torturing and/or belittling prisoners, using others for money, power or sex, vengeance (national and personal). (Morelli, 2006)
As I have pointed out previously (Morelli, 2010a), unfortunately some who call themselves Christians are Christians in name or culture only. Many Protestant communities of the West cannot be relied on to battle this brokenness. In fact, they are part of the problem. As communities they have abandoned the ancient Sacred Traditions of the Church founded by Christ on His Apostles. They have modified and redefined the fundamental teaching of Christ to conform to the secular culture. Some have even claimed their personal interpretation of Holy Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit and use their personal views to justify personal and societal sin. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2009) resounds the Mind of the Orthodox Church on this pernicious practice.
The New Testament is an unconditional and indisputable doctrinal authority for all Christians. In Orthodox tradition, however, sacred Scripture is not seen as something primary in relation to church tradition. Scripture grew out of tradition and composes an inseparable part of it. Scripture is interpreted not spontaneously but from the perspective of tradition. Personal interpretations are allowed as private opinions.
Some who label themselves Christian communities are even teaching that several of the societal sins listed above, such as abortion and same sex marriage, are Godly acts. Some have acquiesced to political correctness and teach that females can be ordained to the holy priesthood and episcopacy. The effect of this sell-out is not only to not preach the Gospel as Christ has taught us, but also to produce a greater alienation from the Orthodox Church, which the non-Christian world can perceive as outright scandal and hypocrisy. “It has also undermined the common Christian witness to the secularized world.”i
Equally reprehensible is the message of those who preach hatred, retribution, vengeance and death in the name of Christ. This is a mockery of all Christ stood for by His emptying of Himself (kenosis) of the Godhead and taking on our human nature.
St. Luke warned of wolves coming among those who call themselves followers of Christ: "I know that after my departure fierce wolves [emphasis mine] will come in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20: 29). St. John tells us "This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." (2 Jn 2:22). St. John also told us: "He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." (1 John 4:8,16). Our holy Church Father St. Isaac the Syrian tells us what abiding in love means. He tells us it entails acquiring a merciful heart whereby we become like God. St. Isaac’s words are exact, concrete and practical:
And what is a merciful heart? it is the heart burning for the sake of all creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons and for every created thing . . . the eyes of a merciful man pour forth tears . . . . he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation...he offers up tearful prayer continually. . .for the enemies of truth, and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. (Alfeyev, 2000).
The Christ of St. Isaac the Syrian, and of all who call themselves true Christians, is the kenotic, self-emptying Christ, the Christ, who became "Extreme Humility":
For those who call themselves 'Orthodox Christians,' but are really not totally committed to Christ, that is to say not truly Orthodox Christians, the condemnation is even worse for they have been given the fullness of Christ's gifts. Recall Our Lord's words: "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required." (Lk 12:48) After receiving the Eucharist at the Divine Liturgy we sing, "We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity: for He hath saved us." The Orthodox Church of Christ has been given the totality of Divine Gifts. Woe to any who waste the divine gifts received at Holy Baptism and available throughout one's lifetime by full and deep participation of the life in the Church.
This increasing homogenization of Christ's teaching with Godless world values and practice has accelerated in part due to technological, economic and entertainment globalization. (Morelli, 2006b) Thus the need for true and complete Orthodox catechesis is so critically necessary. Thus the need for Christians to be re-committed to Christ in emulation of the first Christians in the Acts of the Apostles quoted above, and by following the spiritual counsels of great Spiritual Fathers of the Church. While there are many compilations of spiritual counsels, I will simply note the currently available four volumes of The Philokalia, which are listed in the References of this article. Readers can find numerous other sources of Eastern Church spirituality by examining many of my other articles.ii
Christ who is begotten and sent from the Father and sanctified by the Holy Spirit — can only be known by acquiring and living one's life according to The Mind of the Church. As St. Paul tells us: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2. 5). The Mind of Christ and His Church was sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and has passed down to the Church to the present day.
Let me recount St. Paul’s words: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). St Paul told the Ephesians "you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone . . . “ (2:19,30).
St. Luke told his readers: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, [bishops and priests] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28). Following St. Paul, these traditions, oral first and then written, were passed from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests.
The Mind of the Church, then, refers to the collective teaching of what it takes to be a true follower of Christ by those recognized by the Church as authentic followers of Christ whose teaching and way of life can be trusted. These teachers stand on and within the Gospel of Christ given to us by the Apostles and which constitute and judge the Church even today.
All we have in the Church, its oral tradition, written tradition (Holy Scripture), Holy Mysteries, Liturgy, prayers, teachings of the Church Fathers and saints, holy councils, icons, architecture, music, all proclaim the glory and mind of Christ. Interestingly Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev (2009) highlights that both liturgical tradition and the Councils of the Church are reflective of the Church as "unconditional and indisputable authority." This sacred aggregate is the Mind of the Church.
The Focal Point of Catechesis: The Orthodox Church
Orthodoxy, that is to say the Mind of Christ and His Church, must be the ethos of catechesis. Unfortunately, I have heard it said for example: "Church school should be 50% Bible Study and 50% the Orthodox Church.” God forbid! Absolutely not! The focal point of catechesis must be 100% The Orthodox Church. However, as Constantelos (1966) informs us, significant scriptural components can be found in every worship service of the Church. He states that the ". . . Orthodox Church is very much a Scriptural Church . . . par excellence." May I emphasize again, quite importantly, however, that the apprehension of Sacred Scripture can be only as understood by the Holy Spirit-inspired Church. To accentuate this point may I reference the title of an outstanding book, echoing the Mind of the Church: Scripture in Tradition (Breck, 2001).
Several years ago The Learning Channel (TLC) ran a TV series developed by science historian David Burke called Connections. The premise of the show was that one cannot consider the development of any event in isolation. Rather, all must be seen as a gestalt, a web of interconnected events.iii This is a perfect definition of the Orthodox Church of Christ and how the revelation of Christ and the mind of His Church should be taught as well.
The use of 'connections' in catechetics is consistent with study findings from educational psychology research laboratories. In a review of the literature on transfer of learning, Sternberg and Frensch (1993) point out that numerous studies indicate transfer [improved learning] is likely to occur when material is presented: in multiple settings, is organized, that is to say "connected" with material already known by the student; when common themes are highlighted across different lessons and when students are challenged to apply these themes to new learning. Similarly, Greeno, Collins, and Resnick, 1996 point out the importance of "multiple representations of content."
In fact, this article and many of my past writing are based on connections. In this article I am referencing Church Tradition, Sacred Scripture, the Divine Liturgy, prayer, the counsels and sayings of the Church Fathers, icons and architecture. Understandingly I pray, is my omission of music. Now plainly, I cannot cover the entirety of the Church in one basic essay on Catechesis. But at least I can demonstrate how a specific topic can be presented based as a unified whole, all parts interrelated and connected, which at the end presents a spiritual perception that transcends any of the parts taken alone. Essential to making these 'connections' efficacious in the journey to eternal salvation is the 'Domestic Church.'
Ideally, a true Orthodox Christian domestic church in our day should look like (but is not limited to) something like this: Jesus Christ is at the center or hub. Husbands, and wives, as such, and as fathers and mothers, should be the leaders of the "church at home" in Christ's name. They should bless one another and their children, bless the food which is partaken, give thanksgiving for all that God has provided (house, furnishings, etc.), thank God for health and talents, and lead by the sanctity of their conduct as well as their words (Morelli, 2005c).
No catechesis can take place without the full deployment of the Domestic Church. The Orthodox family home has to reflect in its entirety the teachings of Christ and the application of these teachings as understood by His Church in the world today. Formal parish catechetical lessons usually at best may last 45 minutes to 1 hour a week. The number of hours in an entire week is 168 hours. Considering of the importance of models in shaping behavior (Morelli, 2007, 2008, 2009), how much impact can a 1 hour Church School have when it is not reflected in the family lifestyle during the other 167 hours comprising the week?
An expanded outline of how the Domestic Church can fulfill its obligation to preach, teach and practice Christ can be found in Morelli, 2009.
Children are probably among the greatest hypocrisy detectors in the world. When they witness and experience a discrepancy between what they are taught by Christ and His Church and what is practiced in the Domestic Church the consequences are spiritually and morally devastating. The disconnect is immediately seen. The children's faith in the credibility of the Christian understanding of husband-wife, father-mother, family life and/or the moral authority of Christ and the message of His Church is shattered. Contemplate Our Lord's dire warning: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (Mk 9:42).
Always start out by asking children what they know or think about whatever it is that is up for discussion. It could be a catechetical topic, like in the example above: "What is the Church? or a moral issue like same-sex marriage. Three caveats: 1) let the child speak; 2) don't answer your own questions; and 3) don't assume you know what the child knows or is going to say; 4) don't preach.
Help the child make connections based on the child's understanding by asking questions. If the child does not make a connection, make show the child what it is and then query the child's understanding.
This approach is actually making use of a cognitive-educational model called the Socratic Method (Beck, 1995). Using this technique, the catechist or parent does not initially give data, knowledge or wisdom directly. Instead, the student discovers it as a result of answering a series of questions that are posed. When a child discovers something for himself, or makes appropriate connections between things, it is far more meaningful than referencing authority. When a parent asks questions like "What do you think?" or, "How is this related to what we learned in . . . (Scripture, reading the Church Fathers, a homily or church school, etc.)," chances are much greater that the child will grasp and retain important points. Be ready to fill in any gaps in theological principles in a straightforward manner. In summary: don't preach; keep it simple; use clear, focused, examples. The spirit of the 'Domestic Church' should be the words of St. Paul: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Rm 12: 2).
Suggestions and Resources for an Interconnected Curriculum Based On 'Connections'
Some of the material below repeats a few of the points made above. This model catechetical lesson on "The Church" material is meant as a guide and illustration of how the topic can be approached.
In Sacred Scripture, (Old and New Testament), reference to: Ekklesia (assembly). In the Old Testament we read of the creation of the assembly of angels. The writer of the book of Job speaks of the creation of the angels: "when the stars were born all the angels in a loud voice sang in praise of me" (Job 38, 7).
This could be associated with the words of St. John Chrysostom who noted that the prophets and righteous of the Old Testament belong to the Body of Christ: "they too knew Christ."
The assembly of saints, laos-the people of God. In the New Testament a deeper meaning: through the incarnation of Christ not just a gathering of people, but the Body of Christ, itself. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16, 18). The rock (petra) on which the Church is built is Peter's confession that Christ is the Son of God.
St. Paul: "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all" (Eph. 1, 22-23).
The Church is a Eucharistic Community (deepest expression of the Church). The Church contains the whole truth; she has all God's revelation. St. Paul: "Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1Tim. 3, 15).
St. Maximus the Confessor: "[The Church], the mystery hidden from the ages and from the generations, was now made manifest by the true and perfect incarnation of the Son of God, who united our nature to Himself inseparably and unconfusedly."
This service is performed by the priest before the start of the Divine Liturgy. It prepares the bread and wine to be made into the Body and Blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit during the Divine Liturgy.
The sacred vessels used in the Prothesis Service (and Divine Liturgy) are depicted below.iv
The sacred vessels, the actions of the priest and the prayers he says all refer to God's sending of His Son: Christ's action of salvation united with ecclesia, all those who make up the Church with Christ as its Head. Below is a drawing of the Loaf of Bread on the surface of which are traced the sacred symbols which will be cut from it and eventually arranged in the same pattern of the Diskos, on which have the raised sacred symbols on the surface of the loaf, they will be cut and they will be eventually arranged on the Diskos in the same pattern. Some of prayers said during the Prothesis Service are included below:
You have redeemed us from the curse of the law by thy precious Blood. By being nailed to the Cross and pierced by the spear, you have become a foundation of immortality for all people. O our Savior, Glory to you." This introductory prayer has its roots in St. Paul's words to the Galatians (3: 13-14): "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, "Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree" — that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The priest, using the spear (representing the lance used to pierce the side of Christ while He hung on the cross: "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water . . . " (Jn 19: 34), cuts the middle portion, called The Lamb (ICXC NIKA - Jesus Christ Conquers), representing Our Lord who takes on the sins of the world. He is called The Lamb because He accepted His death with humility and without protest. Some of the prayers during the cutting follow: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter"- "And as a spotless Iamb is dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth." "In his humiliation his judgment was taken away." "And for his generation who shall declare it?" "For his life is taken away from the earth." All these prayers have their foundation in Isaiah 53: 7-8. The next action of the priest is to make a cross incision [+] on the back of the Lamb while saying a prayer derived from the Gospel of St. John (6: 51): "Sacrificed is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, for the life of the world and its salvation."
The priest then pierces the IC symbol while praying the words from St. John's Gospel (19:34) quoted above: "One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side and immediately there came forth blood and water. And he who saw it bore witness, and his witness is true."
Next the priest goes to the Chalice and pours wine and water into it while praying: "Blessed is the union [wine and water, to become blood and water] of thy holy gifts, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen"
Going back to the Bread, the priest cuts a triangular particle to represent the Theotokos while saying: "In honor and memory of our most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary: through whose intercession do thou accept, O Lord, this sacrifice upon Thy heavenly altar." He places the Theotokos particle on the Diskos on the right side of the Lamb (as in the diagram of the particle placement on the Diskos) while saying: "On Thy right hand stood the Queen clothed in garment wrought with gold and arrayed in many colors" (Ps. 45:10): The beautiful icon below, with the Theotokos encased in gold, depicts this same spiritual perception:
The priest goes on to cut nine triangles symbolizing the nine orders of saints and the angels that make up the Church in heaven which he then places on the left of the Lamb:
- "In honor and memory of the great Angelic Leaders Michael and Gabriel, and all the bodiless Powers of heaven."
- "Of the honorable glorious Prophet Baptist John, of the holy glorious Prophets Moses and Aaron, Elijah, and Elisha, David and Jesse, of the three holy Children, Daniel the Prophet, and of all the holy Prophets."
- "Of the holy, glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, of the Twelve and the Seventy, and of all the holy Apostles."
- "Of our Fathers among the Saints, great Hierarchs and ecumenical Doctors, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom; of Athanasius and Cyril, Nicholas of Myra, and all the holy hierarchs."
- 5. "Of the holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen; of the holy Great Martyrs George the Trophy-bearer, Demetrios Myrobletes, Theodore Tiro, Theodore Stratelates, and all the holy Martyrs."
- "Of our Venerable and God-bearing Fathers Anthony the Great, Euthymios, Paisios, Sabbas, Onouphrios, Peter and Athanasios of Athos, and of all the holy ascetics."
- "Of the holy, glorious and wonder-working healers Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleemon and Hermolaus and of all the holy Unmercenaries."
- "Of the holy and righteous Theopatores [Ancestors] Joachim and Anna, of the Saints (the saints of the day) whose memory we commemorate today and of all the Saints, at whose supplication, visit us, O God."
- "Of our Father among the Saints John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (or Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop Caesarea of Cappadocia), whose Divine Liturgy we now perform."
The large triangles are cut by the priest commemorating the Metropolitan Archbishop, Diocesan Bishop, Priests and Deacons and are placed immediately under the Lamb (this is not depicted in the accompanying graphic).
The priest goes on to cut particles commemorating the living and the dead and places them in rows at the bottom of the Diskos as shown:
The Diskos and Chalice are then incensed by the priest with the supplication: "Incense we offer thee, O Christ our God . . . and send down us in return the grace of thine all-holy Spirit"
On the Diskos is placed the (incensed) Star cover. Then the Diskos and Chalice are covered with the (incensed) veils and both with the (incensed) Aer. The star cover references the Star of Bethlehem, which announced to the world the birth of the Savior of the World. The beautiful Prothesis prayer said as the priest places it on the Diskos: "And the star came and stood over the place where the young child was." Recall that usually at the Prothesis Table is an icon of the Holy Nativity (as seen above). The small veil over the Diskos denotes the power, might and majesty of God: ". . . He hath clothed Himself with majesty . . ." The second veil denotes Christ's virtue which covers the world. The Aer is the large veil that covers both the veiled diskos and chalice. It symbolizes both the swaddling clothes of the Christ Child in the manger ("And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." Lk 2:12) and the burial cloth in which Christ was wrapped and placed in the tomb after His Crucifixion and death ("They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews . . ." Jn 19:40). The words said by the priest while placing the Aer over the gifts can also be meditated on: "Shelter us in the shadow of they wings . . . ." Christ covers the whole world with His salvific grace.
During the Divine Liturgy the Aer is waved over the diskos and chalice during the recitation of the Creed to symbolize the Holy Spirit making efficacious all the spiritual actions of the ecclesia, the assembly. The words of St. Maximus the Confessor should not be lost to us: ". . . the whole and complete Divinity is completely in the complete Father (Son and Holy Spirit) . . . The essence, power and energy of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one, for none of the hypostases or persons either exists or is intelligible without the others.” Philokalia II). In this context can be understood the words of St. Theognostos: ". . . the bread and wine themselves that are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ . . . through the action and presence of the Holy Spirit.” (Philokalia II). Thus can be understood the symbolism of waving the Aer.
O God our God, who didst send forth the heavenly Bread, the food of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer and Benefactor, blessing and sanctifying us: Do thou thyself bless this Oblation and receive it upon thine altar above the heavens. Remember, as thou art good and lovest mankind, those who brought this offering, and those for whom they brought it; and preserve us blameless in the celebration of thy holy Mysteries: for sanctified and glorified is the most honorable and majestic name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Then there is a reference to "He who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger . . . rose from the dead . . . in the grave with the body . . . Hades with the soul as God, in Paradise with the Thief and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit was thou, O Christ, filling all things thyself uncircumscribed."
The Church, the Body of Christ, is related to the Temple (church building). The Temple is a vessel carrying the body of Christ to union with God, that is to say salvation, deification, to becoming partakers of the Divine Nature (2Pt 1:4).
The central part of the Temple is called the nave [Latin: navis, ship: from its rectangular appearance], a reference to Noah's Ark which, as recounted in Genesis (6-9), was built by Noah at God's command to save himself, his family, and the earth's animals from devastation.
Also, the temple building is related to St. John's description of the "New Jerusalem," The Kingdom of God, in the Book of Revelation (21: 14-27). The mission of the Church, the Assembly, is to be the ship of our salvation.
Those who have not yet committed to Christ remain outside the nave. Although all are called, these are they who have yet to become members of the Church.
In ancient times the catechumens (those learning about Christ and awaiting baptism) could enter into the Narthex, (the waiting area) but not into the Nave, the area in which the baptized, that is to say those of Royal Priesthood, assembled. During the Divine Liturgy, catechumens could look into the nave and hear the Lessons (Epistle, Gospel and Homily. At the command: "The Doors, the Doors, in wisdom, let us attend" the doors of the Nave were shut and only the baptized remained in the Temple proper (the nave).
This gradually developed and roughly took on its current form in the 15th Century. It developed to be visual presentation of salvation history. It contains icons of the Holy Trinity, Christ, the last supper, the Cross, the major Feasts of the Church, the angels, the prophets and patriarchs (the righteous of the Old Testament), the Theotokos, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, the patron saint of the assembly (the Temple) and other saints. It physically and symbolically separates the nave, containing the assembly who are journeying to salvation, from the holy of holies, the Sanctuary. It has three doors. The Royal Doors through which Christ comes forth and departs back into the holy of holies. Only the vested bishop or priest who represents Christ may pass through these doors. On the South side is a door with the icon of St. Michael the Archangel, often depicted with a raised sword or lance as guarding this door. During Divine Services it is through this door that servers and Clergy exit. On the North side of the iconostasis is a door with the icon of the Archangel Gabriel who announced to the Theotokos that she was chosen to become the Mother of Our Savior and to whom she communicated her assent, by God's grace, to His will.
St. Luke tells us:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin . . . and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" . . . And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. "And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Lk 1: 26-28,30-33,35-38).
In the Exaposteilarion of the Feast of the Annunciation the Theotokos is called "O ladder and door!” Because of Mary's fiat (Thy will be done), the North door on which is the icon of the Archangel Gabriel is now opened for all of the church to climb into salvation. During liturgical services it is through this door that attendants (sometimes clergy) enter the Sanctuary. This is through the south door that symbolically all who attain salvation will enter. At the rear of the Sanctuary is the Platytera icon. The Theotokos, by her fiat, opened the door of salvation by her conceiving and giving birth to Christ, who overcame sin and death for our salvation. Her upraised arms, with the infant Christ at the center, depicts her as the ladder to heaven for mankind.
The sanctuary (and the priest and assembly) face east. St. Matthew (24: 27) records the words of Jesus talking about the Days of Tribulation, His glorious Second Coming: "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man." The entry into the Temple is in the West, facing the place where the sun sets, a place of darkness. Going east into the Temple, (the Ark, the New Jerusalem, that is to say, becoming baptized and joining the assembly (ecclesia, church), they will encounter the light of Christ, the source of salvation. As David, tells us to "Sing to God, who rides upon the heaven of heavens towards the east . . . (Ps 67: 34) Furthermore, "Light rises in the darkness for the upright . . ." Ps.111: 4). The upright are those who are baptized and strive deeply to live a life committed to Christ as members of the Church.
This connection between Old and New Testament, the geographic orientation of the Temple building and the symbolism of darkness, light and salvation is elegantly summarized by St. Matthew's telling of Jesus’ action after He encountered and overcame Satan, the Evil-one in the desert, (Mt: 4: 1-11).
St. Matthew tells us:
". . . He went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —the people who sat in darkness [the west] have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned [the east]."From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [the beginning step of our salvation]." (Mt 4: 13-17).
The sanctuary area itself is filled with many interrelated spiritual symbols. It represents paradise, the natural home of our ancestral parents and the place we are called to return to. St. Isaac of Syria (Alfeyev, 2000) tells us: ". . . when [God] expelled Adam and Eve from paradise . . . as though dwelling in paradise had been taken away from them because they were unworthy. But within all this rested the Divine plan . . .rather they were going to subjugate the entire earth . . . " This theme is echoed liturgically in the Vespers of Cheesefare Sunday: "Verily, Adam for eating was driven away from Paradise. Wherefore, he sat opposite thereto, wailing and mourning in a pitiful voice . . . . Therefore the Savior cried out to him, saying, I desire not the loss of my creation, but that it be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth; for he that cometh to me, I shall not cast out."
The Archangel Michael guards and keeps shut the impenetrable North door.
The Archangel Gabriel allows the South Door, the door back into paradise to be open to those who have attained salvation.
Although God is everywhere present, the sanctuary also represents the Kingdom God, His special dwelling place. Recall God's command to Moses: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst." (Ex 25: 8); of which St. Paul told the Hebrews (9:3): “Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies." It is in the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. The account of Jeremiah the Prophet:
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim . . . in the ark [were] the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt . . . so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1Kgs 8: 5-6,9,11)
Our holy Spiritual Father, St. Maximos the Confessor would have us consider another connection: the Holy of holies, the dwelling place of God in the Temple, and the nous, the temple which is the center of our heart, is the sanctuary of God indwelling in us. Our body as the Temple nave beholding the glory of God, through our senses (c.f.Morelli, 2010), and the ordering of our bodies for Godly action and good works.v
The altar or holy table within the sanctuary has multiple symbolic meanings. First, it is tied to the altar of sacrifice in the Holy of holies in Solomon's temple. It is also tied to the table at which Our Lord had 'The Last Supper' -'The Mystical Supper' with His Apostles. As recorded by St. Luke 22: 14-15, 19-20: "And when the hour came, He sat at table, and the Apostles with Him. And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."
This symbolism cannot be missed in this Russian altar which has an icon of the Mystical Supper behind it: